Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Patch and games sizes, onlive, bandwidth…

So OnLive is out in the UK. I noticed quite a few people on the interwebs pointing out that they won’t sign up because, like me, they are on limited bandwidth internet plans.

I live out in the country, where there isn’t as much choice of ISP as the cities, and because my business needs the net, I need a rock solid connection with reliability and really good telephone support, so I end up paying over the odds. As a result, I have very reliable broadband, pretty fast, but bandwidth capped to 45 gig /month. I generally never hit the limit, but then when I see a game demo thats 2 gigs, I normally just skip it.

Something that made me think about this was Heroes of Stalingrad, Red Orchestra. This game is a tech-support trainwreck, with numerous bugs, random crashes, occasional dissapearing sound effects, rubber-banding, blah blah. Underneath it all is a great game.

The good news is they keep patching the game (although often introduce more bugs than they fix). The bad news is the patches are normally 400MB+. Apparently the developers claim this is the unreal engines fault in some way, although I find that hard to believe. Almost all bugs in a game are in the .exe and the exe is rarely >20MB.  Regular 400MB patches are crazy.

I definitely think that big games studios totally forget about the ‘bandwidth-challenged’. It’s one thing to release big patches. It’s another thing to release such patches several times a month, and require the patch for online play. If everyone MUST have the latest version, don’t insist on chewing up over a gig or two a month of peoples bandwidth limit just to play a game.



12 thoughts on Patch and games sizes, onlive, bandwidth…

  1. It’s true that most developers seem to think that bandwidth has joined RAM and hard disk space in being cheap and plentiful. One of my memorable run ins with this was one case where a game demo was around 6GB. I very much wanted to play it, but if it’s only going to give me a single level then why is it shipping with over half the assets of the full game? Needless to say I didn’t download it.

    Company of Heroes is fun as well. If you want the current version there is no patch to get you there. It’s six separate patches with a total size of 2.1GB. Guess who downloaded the wrong combination on his first attempt…

  2. On the point of the underlying engine being a possible culprit for large patch sizes, here’s an anecdote from our experience with Unity 3D:

    The “normal” way of including sound (and graphical, iirc) assets is to have it “bake” them into the sharedassets0.assets file (maybe that gets higher than zero if you have more than one “scene”). This is actually much better supported than the way we took: loading them off disk at runtime. And, honestly, we load them off disk _every_ time, because that’s the only way we were able to get it to work (last I checked anyway, Chris may have figured something better out). It’s actually working just fine in all 3 of our games but it’s one of those cases where you shake your head and wonder “has it really come to this?”.

    So it’s really tempting to try and bake those things into the sharedassets file.

    Why not?

    Because if we do that, and we update a single 32KB sound file, we have to push the entire new sharedassets file out in the next patch. We patch a _lot_. So sticking with the load-from-disk-stuff to me.

    Anyway, perhaps what’s happening with that game and the 400MB patches is needing to patch some relatively insignificant portion of their sound/graphics assets and having to push the entirety of some enormous asset-ball as a result.

    But it’s probably something totally different ;)

  3. I never get why games do that. In ye olde days, you made a pak file because windows file opening and closing was so slow that it sped up game loading to have a single big chunky file.
    These days individual models and textures are big enough that the actual file open delay is minimal compared with streaming, so I don’t see that it really matters that much.
    Plus leaving all the files in the open makes it much easier for people to mod, and PC gamers love to mod :D

    I suspect it’s something fancy to do with 3d rendering that I don’t understand, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out developers are being lazy again.

  4. – Well, its partially true that is fault of the engine -> a minor change in a map needs to change a large monolithic file.
    – Also its part steam fault -> a patch for a normal retail game that may be 20Mb that modifies something in a massive container file (ie. zip renamed to dat containing the assets of the game) will require the full download of that file in steam.
    And yes Heroes of Stalingrad is a trainwreck.

  5. There is something to be said about assuming a ‘fast’ Internet connection. I have Dragon’s Age on the PS3 and it takes about 3 minutes from the point of starting it to the point I can actually load my saved game. Because it has to check the Internet, the DA servers, and DLC updates (which I have all of them and there won’t be new ones) before releasing UI to me. And I have a slow Internet connection for something that no doubt takes 100 ms for the developer.

    (Outside of games, you can’t download the updates to Norton Antivirus over a dial-up. I spent a week trying to get it working at an in-law who only uses dial-up.)

  6. This will change if the US telcom industry can shove broadband caps down consumers throats without a mass revolt. I suspect if this happens, Steam will cut a deal with the ISPs and the only way you don’t pay the ISP bandwidth gouging is via Steam, which I’ve heard is the case in Australia.

    This really worries me, and I actually did get politically active about this in 2009 and made a pest of myself to a few folks. Unfortunately, the champion of the movement against this got caught with his pants in another staffer’s pants, then went on Glenn Beck and looked loonier then Beck, so he’s done for. Also, my state banned municipal broadband this year. So yeah, I’m worried as hell about this.

    D.Moonfire: it may not be your internet, but EA’s DRM that’s causing those issues. I’ve found in the past that cracking/yanking SECURom out of games (that I bought), speeds up startup tremendously in some cases, even on my new laptop.

  7. @Bluebreaker

    ” Also its part steam fault -> a patch for a normal retail game that may be 20Mb that modifies something in a massive container file (ie. zip renamed to dat containing the assets of the game) will require the full download of that file in steam”

    This used to be the case, but they’ve implemented a new patching scheme that only needs to download the changed part of the file now. The developers need to catch up with this new method of course, but it should fix those problems.

    In the end, this is my problem with patching these days. Long long ago in my youth, patchers were as small as possible and only patched the parts of the files that they needed to rather than just shipping with a complete replacement. Over time they appear to have lost the ability to do that, even though doing it would have much more dramatic effects on filesize. I’m especially puzzled about it when the file is a container format with many small files in – they don’t even need fancy patching then, they can replace the entire patched file within that container.

  8. “This will change if the US telcom industry can shove broadband caps down consumers throats without a mass revolt. I suspect if this happens, Steam will cut a deal with the ISPs and the only way you don’t pay the ISP bandwidth gouging is via Steam, which I’ve heard is the case in Australia.”

    That’s the real issue here. Alstein is correct in his comment about Australia and Steam. For a long time, the only reason I, as a gamer, did not max out my quota every month was due to free Steam content from my ISP.

    And I agree that until the US implements quotas, the gaming industry will continue to not give a crap.

    I remember moving to Canada for a year back in 2004. I called and asked Bell Sympatico (think their version of BT or Telstra) and asked what their quotas where. The woman’s response was “what do you mean”? When I explained, she chuckled and informed me there were no limits to the amount you could download.

    For the record, it’s not as bad in Australia any more. The last twelve months has seen some amazing movement on quotas with many major ISPs now offering 200GB plans for ~$50AUD. I feel for you pasty Poms. :)

  9. The Canadian citizenry revolted some over caps last year- it became a national issue.

    In the US, they’ll probably do it city by city (especially in the Red States, since the Tea Party loves broadband capping)

  10. It’s true that Red Orchestra 2 patches are very big but it is also true that the devs can’t help it because Unreal Engine is build so that if you change certain parts of the engine it requires the whole engine to be “cooked” again.

    Same things happened to Rock of Ages. The devs made small fixes to the game but the fixes affected the “cooked” part of the game engine and a few MBs big patch suddenly was around 505 MBs.

    I’m not sure how exactly Unreal Engine works but as I said above it is somehow “cooked,” as the developers of this engine have named it and only way to patch the cooked part is to replace it.

  11. Oh yeah and I think the game engine is cooked in order to prevent hacking or some similar stuff to this.

  12. Thank heavens; a voice of reason RE: bandwidth.

    I happen to be firmly stuck in sub-megabit hell due to various factors. It makes a player/modder VERY picky about what he’s gonna download. With a max, on paper (ha!), of 768k up and 128k down, I wouldn’t attempt to D/L a 2gig demo of *anything*. Not even if Jesus Christ authored the demo.

    While I know I’m marooned at the far foot of the bandwidth bell curve (the very unfun foot), it now seems there are a lot more bandwidth-impaired players out there than the big game studios want to acknowledge the existence of. Either our moment-to-moment bandwidth is a steaming pile with no “burstable” capacity, or we have stupidly low monthly D/L caps set, or both. It makes any form of frequent patching with needlessly huge files feel like sheer misery, and it greatly delimits the list of games that I’m willing to take a chance on. At least in the US market, this problem is going to get worse before it gets better.

    Assuming, of course, that the present collusion between politics and commerce means that it will *ever* get better. :/

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